In "Endless Love," the gauzy new romantic drama starring Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde as the meant-to-be-togethers, one thing is certain — sometimes beauty is only skin deep.
Directed by Shana Feste and delivering its breaking hearts and fragrant flowers just in time for Valentine's Day, the film is filled with interesting ideas about love, loss, self-esteem and social class, particularly as they define still malleable graduating seniors. But in adapting Scott Spencer's novel for the big screen, Feste and Joshua Safran ("Gossip Girl") barely skim the surface. With maddening, musical wild abandon.
Every time things between blue-collar David (Pettyfer) and pretty, privileged Jade (Wilde) get sticky — either kissy/gooey or teary/hurt-y — and the film could go deep, "Endless" morphs into music video territory.
Director of photography Andrew Dunn has a field day with slow-mo kissing, dancing, hugging, swimming, gazing and running through verdant fields, gardens, parks and pastures on days and nights that are rain-drenched, wind-swept, sun-washed, moonlit.
All of the veteran cinematographer's loverly images are set to a moody indie-pop soundtrack saturated with tunes that tell the story as often as the dialogue: "All of Me," "I Know It's You," "Leading Me Now," "Ends of the Earth," "Don't Find Another Love," "I Know You Can Hear Me," "All Our Endless Love."
The film is a harmless, frothy confection, but you wonder: Can Jade and David survive the conflicts and the lyrics?
The lines are starkly drawn from the beginning for the star-crossed pair. It is graduation day as the lens zooms in on the beautiful Jade as David narrates poetically about the girl he loves from afar. Same school, but class divides and the death of Jade's beloved older brother a couple of years earlier are the great gulf that separates them.
Or so one might think. But we haven't been introduced to Hugh (Bruce Greenwood).
Jade's dad, a cardiac surgeon, is still mourning the loss of his brilliant golden boy and has transferred all his hopes to the slight shoulders of his shy, studious, sweet daughter. Her mom, Anne (Joely Richardson), spends her time struggling to reclaim her marriage and doting on her kids. Their other son, Keith (Rhys Wakefield), is delightful, but, with a disappointing college major in "communications," he's Hugh's favorite whipping boy. Until David comes along.
Popular, outgoing, sensitive, smart, charismatic, handsome, David would be perfect boyfriend material if not for his job as a valet, the occasional violent temper and those socioeconomic issues. His dad, Harry (Robert Patrick), may be a decent guy, but he's rough around the edges and runs a local garage. The whereabouts of David's mom involves a really sad story that later becomes significant.
A chance encounter at the country club on graduation night — David is parking cars when Jade's family arrives for dinner — and the spark that was hinted at in the opening scenes becomes the flame that refuses to die.
There are many complicating factors the couple must weather that involve car accidents, college majors, restraining orders and major tests of their love. Not surprisingly, Hugh tries to squelch the relationship, primarily by being overbearing. Anne supports the couple in a wistful I-remember-when way that also reminds us what a subtle and refined actress Richardson can be.
Wilde has one of those faces cameras love, thus her other career as a model. There are suggestions in "Endless" that she might have acting talent too. But the director rarely asks. Though the filmmaker seems intent on making romantic drama her métier, if anything she seems hesitant here. While her second film, 2010's "Country Strong," was far from perfect, it allowed for more actual performance time, particularly for the excellent Garrett Hedlund.
Though Jade and David are the main attraction in "Endless," the most interesting relationship is David and Hugh's. Their clashes have the most substance and arguably more real emotion. Greenwood is quite good at shape-shifting between decent and dastardly.
But Pettyfer is the man of the moment.
The British actor, who along with Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum made 2012's "Magic Mike" so watchable, continues to be a surprisingly strong presence on screen. Against all odds, he comes close to carrying this film into respectable romantic range. There must be a hip indie rock/pop/folk song that would be appropriate to queue up right about now.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, brief partial nudity, some language and teen partying
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: In general releaseCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times